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"EXPERIENCE GIFTS, yes, of course, I have given them!" says Villu Tommula who walked around the Christmas market on Senaatintori in Helsinki on 11 December. He and his wife had bought pants and socks with Angry Birds from there for their son's Christmas present, but they also plan to go to a spa together with the family. Pointing to the goods that they have just bought he states, "These are one thing, but going to a spa together, that is better for the soul!"

Eva Garcia Castillo, her husband and two daughters were also visiting Helsinki and the Christmas market from Spain. Castillo explains that her children want toys to play with as gifts. But there's something more important. She turns to her husband. "Amore, love! These people, to be with them!" he points to his family. "Yes, being together with our parents and family is most important during Christmas," Castillo confirms.

How do Finns spend their Christmas?

Based on a survey by Nordea, Finns’ Christmas spending has decreased. This year they plan to spend around €517 per person, which is €33 less than last year. From this, €311 will be spent on gifts, whereas last year they spent €323 and in 2012 around €330 on presents. 32% of people plan to buy some gifts online.

Desired gifts vary: men wish for electronics, music, movies and hobby gear; women for gift cards, home and interior decoration, jewellery and watches, can be read from the research from The Association of Finnish Work.

This Christmas, Finnish homes will have around 1.5 million Christmas trees, as they are planned to get in 54% of homes.

Besides trees, Finns also favour flowers at Christmas time. Last year’s most bought flowers were hyacinths (2.4 million flowers), poinsettias (1.9 million) and amaryllises (0.9 million).

Finns like to send their Christmas greetings via postcards and e-cards: 87% of people were planning to do both. On average, Finns intend to send 16 Christmas cards this year.

Favourite Christmas foods are ham, rutabaga, potato or carrot casserole, beetroot salad, salmon, herring. Especially popular is ham, which will be on 70 per cent of Finnish tables during the celebrations. Last year, Finns bought 7 million kilos of ham for Christmas.

Sources:

Joulupuuseura, Kauppapuutarhaliitto ry, Itella, Lihatiedotos, Taloustutkimus

That's why experience gifts – something non-material, like a trip, a visit to a hairdresser or a beauty salon or an evening at a restaurant – are quite popular in Spain. They enable families to spend time together, she reflects. Their family might plan a trip from their home city Barcelona to the mountains or go to a dinner to a special restaurant. "Something that we all can do together," Castillo explains.

The statistics of The Association for Finnish Work show that experience gifts are also valued by Finns.

There's even a special website elamuslahjat.fi, two permanent and two temporary shops where people can buy experience gifts. Elämyslahjat.fi Finland's Country Manager Kadri Lepiku says that the now four-year-old company is growing quickly: 60 per cent compared with last year and the expected increase for this year is even greater.

From their page it's possible to buy the likes of a massage, a tandem parachute jump or a chocolate making workshop, among other things.

For those who have everything

Lepiku sees that people are buying experience gifts to be different, give something special and show that they care about the present's recipient. These gifts are also valued by people who already have everything and don't need more things in their homes, she adds. "These gifts won't be put to the darkest corner of closets or to the shelves to just gather dust," she says.

It's also possible to give experience gifts without spending money. Helsinki Region Environmental Services Authority (HSY) is offering many ideas for that on their campaign's website www.annajotainmuuta.fi (translated in English as "give something else").

According to HSY, Christmas presents don't need to be expensive to be valuable. By giving gifts that are services, experiences or time spent together can be environmentally friendlier than unnecessary goods. On the page it's possible to browse through different ideas, like a breakfast at a café, going fishing or skiing together, or spending an evening with grandparents, choose the favourite one and download gift card templates for it. The suggested services aren't connected to any one company. These cards can be sent via e-mail or post on a Facebook wall or of course, print out, send or give it yourself to a friend or family member and wish them "Merry Christmas!"

MERLE MUST
HELSINKI TIMES